Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
I love the breadth of choice Mass Effect’s dialogue wheels give you sometimes:
Or the classic:
For some reason it drives me crazy when I can tell, before or after selecting an option, that my character would have delivered the same line no matter what I clicked. For the unfamiliar, Shepard doesn’t say the words you click on, but rather something to that effect. Sometimes there are alarming differences between the two, more often it’s clear the line was phrased to fit all three choices.
If you can’t give me the option, don’t give me the option. There’s plenty of meaningful choice in Mass Effect, punctuating it with meaningless choice only undermines it by making the developers seem lazy and the player’s choices irrelevant.
Plus side, some of them are so good I have to go away and make a cup of coffee before deciding:
I was surprised and pleased to find a lot of commenters here are fans too – I thought any of the other games I mentioned in my last post were more likely to spark a discussion. If you’re playing through at the moment, make sure you hit up Garrus for any old cop stories. My biggest regret when reviewing was that I didn’t follow that lead up before the game ended, and doing so on my second, more Paragonian playthrough was profoundly satisfying.
Bonus points to anyone who knows which two encounters those last decision wheels are from.
Crimson Binome: I mostly enjoyed Mass Effect, except for the issue you bring to hand here, which was a real deterrent for me.
I recall one time where one of the options was "This isn't justice" so I click it, and my character shoves a frakking pistol to a guy's chin, and screams out something that would have George C Scott proud of. Kind of not the message I wanted to get across.
I enjoyed the game, but I kind of miss the lengthy dialogue trees from the Baldur's Gate series. Probably take a lot more time and space for voice acting though.
The Poisoned Sponge: I really enjoyed Mass Effect. Almost all of the decisions in the game I made on the fly, with little to no time thinking about the consequences. It made it feel much more poignant when I did something, however, because the consequences weren't something I could've thought of. It also avoided awkward pauses, and I hate awkward pauses.
Roadrunner: Coffee?!? Pah, tea is way better.
Infact, it's very rare between the hours of when I get up in the morning to 7pm when i'm on my PC that I don't have a trusty mug of tea by my side, ready for the various adventures.
Be it blasting zombie aliens (Dead Space) or running over innocent civillians and watching them fly in a strange way off a ravine (GTA IV) There will be that cup of tea to slurp.
you know when a game is good, when your tea goes slightly cold and you drink a bit only to go "PAH, THIS ISN'T EVEN LUKEWARM!"
Anyway, on topic, I made sure my Mass Effect character is really, really mean. My first character looked too much like Hillary Clinton, and then it corrupted my save files because my PC decided it didn't want to start up, and I had to execute a system recovery, and so now my character looks more like Sarah Palin without the dodgy eye and tied back hair.
Atleast Mass Effect can be played over and over without boring the nuts off of you. I hate all RPGs but ME is slightly bearable.
This long post proves I don't just spam all the time.
Flechette: I actually brought my pC over to a friend's place as a LAN, so the few hours before the LAN started I had a crack at Mass Effect. It's a decent solid game but my main gripe was the combat, I never played a game with system mechanic like that, likely because I stay away from third person shooters, and the other reason being the only other RPG i've played on PC in years was NWN.(which had nice chunks of dialogue and expotentially more fantastic in the very sense of the word)
On a less relevant note, I managed to get your TF2 Unlockable Ideas page honorably mentioned on the latest Control Point Podcast, episode 57 (which, like it's advertised and to no surprise, a TF2 Podcast).
James Block: Mass Effect is a great game. Not only is it a well-executed FPS-RPG hybrid (being a fan of both genres, I'm loving the recent popularity of combining the two in various proportions), it's an actual *original intellectual property*. I'm thrilled that BioWare's gamble paid off, and they're going to be franchising the game. I'm even more thrilled that they're not *only* going to be franchising the game, but are still working on yet more original IP (Dragon's Age).
The character generation system in Mass Effect really impressed me. The options in Oblivion were amazing at the time; Fallout 3 has nearly the same system, but it seems so unwieldy after Mass Effect's. In particular, while you can make an ugly Shepard, it's nearly impossible to create the horrible mutated freaks of nature that are so easy to come by in Oblivion and Fallout (okay, maybe that one was intentional).
And the dialogue system... yeah, it's easily the best I've ever seen for fully voiced dialog, though your point about duplicate options annoyed me too. But, like Crimson Binome, I pine for the days of deep text dialogue trees (even if I was constitutionally obligated to completely explore them all, whether by reloading or breaking out a toolset, and in doing so take forever to finish any game). The fully voiced dialogue is not really a big draw for me; I think it really weakens Fallout 3, for instance, which could have had so much more breadth *and* depth if they didn't have to have an actor record every single line they wanted to use. But if The Market is going to force games to include it, I wish they could all be like Mass Effect.
TooNu: "A non-leathal takedown is always the most silent takedown"
TooNu: I'm sorry I saw dialogue, thought of Deus Ex, then recut, the I commented and it all got a bit out of hand.
I wish I could join this conversation in a more productive way, but I have not played Mass Effect because the DRM drama put me off and I played KOTOR 1 and 2 again instead. Have I made a mistake by not playing it at all?
Cpt.Muffin: I bought this game a few days ago (so it's nice to see this post on it). I installed it last night, and loaded it up to start playing at 8pm. It's now 10:45am, and I'm not sure why it's so addicting. I've only stopped playing as it crashed and I realised the time.
So to those who haven't bought it - make sure you've got a clear schedule, as it sucks you in more than a hooker with a minature black hole anomaly in the back of her oesophagus. Nice post, I too keep getting shocked by what translates from the choice wheel to the words and actions my characters uses.
Tom Francis: Sponge - I hate awkward pauses too, it's great to be able to pre-empt them in Mass Effect and sound natural for once.
Roadrunner - Cold Tea Games would be a good name for a blog.
Flechette - nice work! I'll give it a listen. They mentioned me once before, maybe even the same post, but something happened to the word 'Pentadact' inside their heads, and when it came out of their mouths it was something entirely different.
James - ah, you're one of those scary OCD dialogue addicts? I must admit I more often have the opposite problem - get to the freaking point, guys. Morrowind had a good compromise for me - all text, so no offputting voice-actors or script length limitations, but most of the really in-depth stuff was in optional topics you could ask about after the main dialogue was done. No really deep decision trees in that, though.
TooNu - it's on its way back to the people?
Captain - holy shit! You played for over fourteen hours straight? You beat even me (8am-8pm), and I was reviewing it.
James Block: I'm a "scary OCD dialogue addict" in the sense that I have to explore the big branches in major dialogues (well, okay, and some of the more minor ones... and... I'm not an addict! I'm not! Really!). It's not so much that I enjoy the dialogue itself, but I like to have options, to know that I've really got a choice in the world. But don't give me fake options that have the same response; this is a bigger problem with voiced dialogue, because it's easy to copy, paste, and tweak a line of text, but a lot more work to get a second line recorded and properly integrated into the game.
This was a big failing of Fallout 3, as far as I was concerned: Bethesda created a spectacular world and populated it with awesome things, but at the end of the day there are only three things you can ever say, one Pure Good, one Neutral, and one Chaotic Babykilling Evil. (Bonus points to Mass Effect for including non-chaotic evil dialogue!) The Main Quest suffered quite badly from this, especially the dialogue where you reunite with your father: you can either berate him and storm off, or unconditionally forgive everything he's ever done; absolutely no in-between choice. That dialogue tree was the low point of the game for me, putting me off the quests and into exploring the world (which, given said world's aforementioned awesomeness, is hardly a bad thing). And yet, as you say, the same developers did very well with Morrowind.
Anyway. Breadth in dialogue is what I like to see, not necessarily depth. Even if the end result is the same, giving me multiple things to say to achieve that result lets me feel like I'm really interacting with the world, not just following the "good guy" or "bad guy" script.
Jazmeister: Roadrunner: My friend went to work on a building site full of what he called "Northern English Huge Guys" and was going to bring his own special coffee grounds, but decided it was too posh and he'd get ridiculed. He brought Nescafe instead. They ridiculed him. Tea/Coffee is odd, but I love them both. My brother alwasy offers to make me "teafee".
I love the dialogue in Mass Effect so much that I struggle through the FPS parts. In Fallout 3, it's the opposite; the talking is alright, I mean the basic structure of good dialogue is there, they're just missing the, you know, compelling drama. The main goal should probably be to never give the player a choice (s)he doesn't give a shit about; that's when I start looking around for books to read in tandem and wishing I had a little tiny lappy.
Dialogue Trees are like levels and hit points and experience; they were a good way to deal with an issue, but now they're this mad convention all of their own, with critics and connoisseurs and such.
I think ME (hard not to think of that version of windows I laboured under FOR A YEAR) should be commended for the good/evil thing, considering BioWare's past transgressions; not really diametric alignments, just legend/prick bars that fill up seperately. Just as simple, but less impenetrable. Graphics are great. I really should finish Cave Story and play all these awesome games I can now run. I'm sure the folks at Cyberpower would shake their heads when they see what I'm running on it.
(By the way, Spore is actually great, I just realised)
J-Man: I wish more games had dialogue, and dialogue choices that were as good as Mass Effect's. Well, not so much dialogue choices as "punch hysterical scientist in face" options.
Lack_26: ^^I miss short posts. I liked mass effect, I just wish there was an option so I wasn't just taking the top speech option, thinking I need more paragon, which is what I found myself doing when I drifted off a bit. So yeah, dialogue put randomly on the wheel rather than Good, Neutral, Bad-ass.
Dante: Pentadact, what have you got against male Shepard? I'm just asking because I played as a man and thought he was great. I've only gotten a little way with a female character and, I'll be honest, seen very little difference (except she looks 90% less awesome).
So what's with this 'female Shepard is the best Shepard' campaign you seem to have started?
Oh, and I totally agree that Liara is a weak character, which is a crying shame, because she's the one people are going to go for first without realising this. I prefer my blue babes in the Viconia style please.
So, what would people like to see in Mass Effect 2? I'm hoping for a Salarian team member, specifically the Captain from Virmire, who is fantastic.
Tom Francis: Less Mako, more obedient squaddies, and an Elcor team member.
Genuine enthusiasm: the female Shepard preference is all about the voice actress, Jennifer Hale. She manages to be stern and authorative even when asking questions all the time, and her commanding presence makes her tender moments all the more disarming.
Mr Dan: I'm going to have to give "Female Shepard" my stamp of approval. I once made a female Shepard and I hate to admit it but she was rather hot. I'm not usually one for falling in love with computer game characters but who can resist a woman with dark-red eye-shadow that is sarcastic to everyone and anyone.
And if sarcasm wasn't sexy enough, she also kills things...with sarcasm.
J-Man: One of my friends got Mass Effect (not Roadrunner) and it turns out we had exactly the same-looking female Shephard, although mine had a massive scar like Omar out of The Wire.
Lack_26: Yeah, I vastly prefer the Female Shepard. The voice acting is excellent and I had more fun with the character development and plot from a female point of view.
Roadrunner: The best part of the female shepard- she's not one of those insane feminists who blame everything on men, overtalk people in a serious, and intellectual debate and somehow have husbands who they bully into not ever speaking without permission.
I'm for equal rights for everybody! Except these people.
A James Reader: I'm surprised nobody's taken up the little ID challenge yet.
The first one: Toombs, Ontorom, Newton System. For the Sole Survivors in the audience.
My memory fails me on the second one, but given that I'm also in the process of playing through again, I'm sure it will be jogged in the very near future.
Tom Francis: Correct on the first one. Both are encounters I didn't have the first time through the game, but I'm not sure if the second was also tied to a character trait I didn't have before, or just talking to more people.
DoctorDisaster: Are you sure you'd want an Elcor? As fun as the HK reference is, I suspect their Ent-speak would get grating if you were around them that often. A Salarian or Volus would be much more fun, I think. Especially a grouchy Volus.
Instead of having less vehicle exploration, I'd just change vehicles. I think a trio of little one-man hoverpod things would be much more interesting to drive around than the big tank, and have the side benefit of not making your team choice completely forgotten and irrelevant.
As a total tourist gamer, there are a couple of things I haven't been able to do (yet?) in ME and would like to see in the sequel. After Tali's descriptions of the Quarian fleet, I would really like to visit it at some point. Also, I think it's stupid that you can fly to Earth, but can't land.
Oh, and this goes without saying, but any Mass Effect sequel without a sardonic Krogan teammate would hardly be worthy of the name.
CloakRaider: This is actually one of the things I found annoyed me about Mass Effect.
Especially when the result is not what I intended (Choosing a reasonably friendly response and ending it with violent action)
J-Man: Surely Garrus is gay, by the way. Not that there's anything wrong with that!
LordNuts: The second dialogue tree, Virmire: Convincing Wrex ?
Roadrunner: I'm allowed to say this because I am Jewish, and am not politically correct.
The Volus are space-Jews. Think about it for a moment.
[If this comment is somehow offensive to others, I apologise.]
If by that you mean stereotype-jews, then you are far more correct about the Volus than anybody else.
MartinJ: On the Mass Effect note, (SPOILER ALERT), what did you guys do with Wrex on the mission to the Krogan cure facility? Personally, I had enough charm points to persuade him to stand down, but it was in my Shepard's (I'm playing female) character to... (HEAVY SPOILER) shoot him. I felt really bad after it, but I couldn't rely on him anymore and was afraid he'd backstab me.
(lol - I accidentally posted it in the old entry at first. not sure what happened with my brain there...)
J-Man: I basically told him to STFU and stop being a whiny little girl, which somehow made him like me more.
Tom Francis: That scene would have been more tragic if Wrex had argued that Saren's xenophage curing technology could be subverted into a proper cure if it wasn't destroyed. Instead, he just seemed to accept my premise that it was a binary choice: slave-cure or no cure - and so proceeding with the mission was best for everyone.
Keep guessing on the second one. It's another encounter from Shepard's past, probably tied to one of my origin choices.
A James Reader: Ah, the hint gave it away.
It's your "old friend" Finch on the Citadel Station. Only triggers for earthborns.
Tom Francis: Yep. Did you happen to choose the same origin options as me, or do you just know a freakish amount about Mass Effect?
For the record, I charmed him out of grassing me up - tempted to shoot him, but a C-Sec officer was standing right there. Afterwards, the C-Sec officer chided me for not just shooting him.
A James Reader: Like I mentioned before, I'm in the middle of a second playthrough myself. Funny you should mention it; I guess my Shepard was nearly a mirror of yours, but at the last moment I switched her origin from earthborn to colonist.
I posted the first answer not ten minutes after running across it in my own game. Unfortunately, my short term memory was not able to reproduce the correct spelling of Ontarom. Apologies.
After you tipped off the second one, it was just process-of-elimination. My first character was a spacer war hero, and that exchange didn't seem familiar to me. So I guessed earthborn, and a helpful friend confirmed it and filled me in with the relevant specifics.
Jay: First time I met Finch, I shot him. The next time, I told him I could murder the whole bar, but somehow, shooting him felt more satisfying
Also: Punching the scientist at the beginning. The way the conversation played out meant that it was ALWAYS the first thing I did
DoctorDisaster: [This post is laden with spoilers for those who haven't finished Virmire]
There's no freaking way I'd have sacrificed Wrex as a teammate. He's my favorite character! I used the charm option. But like you, Tom, I was a little disappointed that there wasn't a dialogue branch or side-quest involving salvaging some of Saren's research. Especially considering the scientist encounters; how hard would it be to have them picked up by the Normandy for questioning?
Then again, even if I had that option, I'm not sure what I would have done with it. That was definitely one of those 'uh, can I sleep on it?' decisions. Frankly, Shepard should have been inundated with renegade points for choosing either way out.
Cpt.Muffin: Restrained aunguish: must...wait to...play this...game...again.
I've stopped playing to do a writing piece and it torments me, sitting on my hard drive. It's like looking into an abyss, an abyss of bliss.
Except the Mako sections. They're just shit, frankly.
Also I'm impressed people have resisted writing like the Elcors in this comment thread. Except Tom, who succumbed.
J-Man: Will the economic recession affect games sold in retail stores? Or through digital distribution? What about MMO subscription fees? Hmm... Maybe I should write a spec article for PCG. Or may I should just post my ideas on the comments section of a videogames journalist's blog.
HoW Monty: Genuine enthusiasm: An article about Mass Effect. Sincere question: Tom, did you make your Female Shepard look the same each time you started a new game?
Tom Francis: Stunned indignation: What do you take me for. A guy who's not obsessed with character creation and space spies. Well I am not.
Obvious pride: This is Shepard Shepard, ruthless spacer infiltrator with renegade tendancies and my review character:
Dorian Cornelius Jasper: @Dante:
Male Shepard: "I've got a voice like a cheese grater and deliver my lines with reliable flatness."
Female Shepard: "I know how to act. Also, I've got emotions."
And if you think Male Shepard looks more awesome then sure. But from my experience, you spend a lot more time listening to your character speak than looking at their face. And a big chunk of Mass Effect's appeal is in the dialogue. That means the voice acting is make-or-break.
Lack_26: I liked the red Mercenary armour, unfortunately I struggled to find a better version towards the end game. But I still played through with it on, despite having some armour 2-3 times as good.
Cpt.Muffin: This one regrets bringing up the methods of speech employed in the game.
Querulous: Tom, why do you have a preference for female characters with an indentation shaved into their eyebrow? This one would like to know, and will hence refer to it as the pentadactian penchant.
HoW Monty: Grateful thanks: Your reply is much appreciated Tom. Geniuine enthusiasm: I shall now attempt to recreate your characters!
HoW Monty: Sincere question: Did you always choose Liara and Ashley?
J-Man: Architecture in Helsinki and Cloud Cult; FIGHT! Sorry, that was necessary. The latter has usurped the former.
Roadrunner: Those are some butt fugly shepards.
My first shepard looked like Hillary Clinton, and in horror i started again and change my shepard slightly.
But then she looked too much like sarah palin.
Jason L: Sarah Palin going around wherever she pleases, punching scientists - and in the game!
Tom Francis: Yeah, you said that already.
Captain: they're the result of scars rather than specially shaved, but frankly: yes.
Monty: my Infiltrator had no biotics, so Liara was handy, but I think I more often paired her with Wrex. My Vanguard took Wrex and Garrus everywhere, because they're my two favourite characters, and I'd since learned there were lots of unique arguments between them.
Am i first?: I guess you can pretend that one is disguised as the other, that way the personalities match.
Redhawk: I would love to play Mass Effect more if I apparently didn't have one of the exact system specifications that causes the game to (if I'm lucky) instantly crash me back to the desktop. If I'm not lucky (which is more common), my entire computer locks up and having to restart my comp three or four times to get through the first hour of gameplay is not my idea of fun. Or system stability.
Still, the graphics are gorgeous, the world is detailed, the combat was fun, and Female Shepard is quite pleasing to the ear and eye. What a shame Male Shepard appears to the be the canon one because he could easily be replaced by a robot and it would be difficult to notice the difference.
DoctorDisaster: I'm sorry, but Male Shepard is NOT that bad. Go play Deus Ex again if you've forgotten what "bad" sounds like. I'm not saying he's fantastic, and I'll readily take your word that the female voice actor is better, but some of the hyperbole here is getting ridiculous.
Although I think it's possible that the male voice actor sounds better on the paragon lines than he does on the renegade ones. The few times he's gotten shouty in my game have featured the least convincing delivery I've seen from him.
Come to think of it, I wonder how actors handle VO for a protagonist with moral choice? They don't really have a character to get into -- the character could be anything. And I imagine that for the convenience of the developers, they go through the lines scene by scene rather than doing one area of the moral spectrum at a time. That lack of continuity has got to be difficult.
Roadrunner: Did I mention my charactar looks like sarah palin?
It's how dull and empty my life is, I must resort to repeating myself, on blogs, over the internet.
But atleast I don't use 4chan.
Jazmeister: You should do a Hilary Clinton character.
I've never even selected a male shephard. Infact, I sit with Spore waiting for me to dismiss a tutorial message and just read this here book. Fuck you computer! Now YOU wait!
TooNu: Shepard Shepard does look like Ripley.
Jay: Rediscovered why I love this game. Within ten minutes, I get to punch someone in the face as a dialogue option
Anonymous: I would just like to take this moment to point out that the Mass Effect 2 Teaser Trailer shows Commander Shepard as KIA.
DoctorDisaster: Shepard SHOULD have died at the end of ME1. I was shocked -- and not in a Bruce Willis was a ghost! way -- when they didn't kill him. What a limp ending for a great story.
More disappointing about the ME2 trailer is that it mentions Liara. I guess that means Shep didn't get annoyed enough to lose her in an 'airlock malfunction' before kicking the bucket. Damn and blast.
Dante: Ahem: *spoiler warning*
I thought they were going to kill Shepard for a while too, sadly they weren't quite brave enough for it. On the other hand though, he did a very cool hero walk afterwards, and Fallout 3 seems to show that gamers can't handle a heroic sacrifice ending, so you can't fault that logic.
And as for Shepard/Geth? I think not, I sold that armour first time I got on the citadel, guess things went badly for that Hannar shopkeeper.
Pattom: @Dante: I was under the impression that it's not the fact that you die which is frustrating players. It's that you die for a contrived reason, and that you are suddenly prevented from using viable alternatives to dying, so dying is the "good" ending and living is the "bad" ending.
Pattom: Er, the above is a reference to Fallout 3. Sorry about the omission and double post.
Dante: Since we're sharing, here's Dante Shepard, his beard can kill a man at six paces:
(uncertain how to insert pics, did best I could)
DoctorDisaster: Seriously, does anyone doubt that ME2 will have you donning the codpiece of Liara and Shep's hideous mutant offspring? Having Shep around to solve everything would just cramp Shep Jr.'s style.
Nedra: Excuse me. Having a holiday weekend without a family member felt like putting on a sweater that had an extra arm.